Tag Archives: GIS

JUL 27: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

Life without savings “difficult, but not impossible,” experts say

Like many things in life, such as quitting smoking or losing weight, saving for retirement – even though it is good for us – is often difficult to do.

Jobs aren’t as plentiful these days, household debt is at record highs, and there just isn’t always a lot of cash for putting aside long term.

But what kind of retirement will people who can’t or didn’t save face when they’re older?

According to a recent article in MoneySense, life without retirement savings (or a workplace plan) is “difficult, but not impossible.”

Canadians who have worked and paid into the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) can, in 2020, expect a maximum annual pension of “$1,176 per month – that’s $14,112 per year,” the article notes. However, the writers warn, not all of us will have worked long enough (and made enough contributions) to get the maximum.

“The average CPP retirement pension recipient currently receives $697 per month, or $8,359 per year. That’s only about 59 per cent of the maximum,” reports MoneySense

You can start getting CPP as early as 60 or as late as 70, and the longer you wait, the more you get, the article notes.

All Canadian residents – even those who don’t qualify for CPP – can qualify for Old Age Security (OAS). If you don’t remember paying into OAS, don’t worry – you didn’t directly pay for it via contributions. Instead, the OAS is paid from general tax revenues.

“A lifetime or long-time Canadian resident may receive up to $614 per month at age 65 as of the third quarter of 2020, which is $7,362 annualized. OAS is adjusted quarterly based on inflation,” MoneySense reports. 

There’s another government program that’s beneficial for lower-income retirees, MoneySense notes. The Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) “is a tax-free monthly benefit payable to OAS pensioners with low incomes. Single retirees whose incomes are below $18,600 excluding OAS may receive up to $916 per month, or $10,997 per year, as of the third quarter of 2020.”

What’s the bottom line? Someone qualifying for any or all of these programs can receive up to $23,721 per year, with “little to no tax required” per the rules of your province or territory.

The article notes that those saving $10,000 before retirement could add $25 to $33 a month to that total. Those saving $50,000 could see an additional $125 to $167 a month, and those putting away $100,000 will have $250 to $330 more per month.

The takeaway from all of this is quite simple – if you are expecting a generous retirement from CPP, OAS, and GIS, you may be in for a surprise. It’s not going to be a huge amount of income, but it’s a reasonable base.

If you’re eligible for any sort of retirement benefit from work, sign up. You won’t miss the money deducted from your pay after a while and your savings will quietly grow.

If there is no retirement program at work, set up your own using the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Start small, with contributions you can afford. Dial up your contributions every time you get a raise. With this “set it and forget it” approach, you’ll have your own retirement income to bolster that provided by government, which will give you a little more security in life after work.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

Time to use realistic yardstick to measure senior poverty: John Anderson

It’s often said that Canadian seniors are doing fairly well, and that the rate of senior poverty experienced back in the pre-Canada Pension Plan days has dropped considerably.

However, says Ottawa-based union researcher John Anderson, the yardstick used to measure senior poverty levels needs to be updated to international standards. He took the time recently for a telephone interview with Save with SPP.

Currently, says Anderson, a “Market Basket Measure” (MBM) system is used to measure the cost of living, a “bizarre” system that factors in the cost of housing, clothing, food and other staples by province and region. By this old system, it is reckoned that 3.5 per cent of Canadian seniors live in poverty, although recent tweaks to the measurement process will see this number jump to 5.6 per cent.

The intricate MBM system – unique to Canada — goes into arcane details such as “what clothes you should have, how many pairs of long underwear, what kind of food you should buy, how many grams of butter. And there’s a sort of built-in stigmatization of rural living; it’s assumed that you don’t need as much money to live in a rural area as you do to live in Toronto,” Anderson says. The opposite is often true, he points out.

LIM system a better comparator

Anderson says the rest of the world uses a different measurement, one that’s much simpler, Anderson explains. The low income measure (LIM) scale defines poverty as being “an income level that is less than 50 per cent of the median income in the country,” he says. “This gives you a very clean comparison.”

By that measure, a startling 14 per cent of Canadian seniors are living in poverty, which is more than triple that figure that MBM currently quotes. “When you think about it, it means they are making less than half of what the average Canadian earns,” he explains. “They are not earning a lot.”

Why are today’s seniors not doing so well? Anderson says there has been a decline in workplace pensions over the years. “The numbers are way down,” he says. As recently as 2005, there were 4.6 million Canadians who belonged to defined benefit plans through work. By 2018, that number had dropped to 4.2 million, “at a time when we have seen a significant increase in the population, and more seniors than ever before.”

Defined benefit plans are the kind that guarantee what your monthly payment will be. About two million Canadians belong in defined contribution plans, which are more like an RRSP – money contributed over a working person’s career is invested and grown, and then drawn down as income in retirement.

“Only 25 per cent of workers have defined benefit plans now. And only 37 per cent have any kind of registered pension plan. Most have nothing,” says Anderson. This lack of pensions in the workplace, and the tendency towards part time and “gig” work that offers no benefits, is a primary reason why senior poverty is on the upswing, he contends.

“The kinds of jobs people are in today have changed,” Anderson explains. “People are working more non-standard jobs, gig jobs, contract work. Many are not even contributing to the CPP.” They tend not to be saving much on their own with these types of jobs, so it means that “when they retire, if they work that way, they don’t get much of a pension.”

That will leave many people with nothing in retirement except Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, Anderson says. Neither the OAS or the GIS has “really kept up” with increases in living costs. The most anyone can get from these two programs is about $1,500 a month, for a single person, he says. “These major government pension plans have not yet taken a leap forward,” he says. “The government has improved the Canada Pension Plan, and people will benefit from that (in the future),” he explains, but these other two pillars should get a look too.

Looking forward

Anderson says by moving to a LIM-based measurement of poverty, governments could have a more realistic basis on which to make program improvements.

“We already have a form of universal basic income for seniors through the OAS and the GIS,” he says. “The monthly amounts these pay out need to be raised.”

The goal should be to raise income for seniors to the LIM target of 50 per cent of Canada’s median income which is $30,700 per person based on median after tax income for 2018.

He also thinks that the OAS should be an individual benefit, rather than being designed for couples or singles. “You get less per person with the couples’ benefit; people should get the same amount,” he explains.

He says seniors today face an expensive retirement, with possible time spent in costly long-term care homes. “Can I survive when I retire – this isn’t a question that our seniors should have to worry about,” he explains.

Anderson remains optimistic that the problem will be addressed. The Depression prompted governments of the day to begin offering OAS; experience during and after the Second World War led to the introduction of EI and the baby bonus. CPP benefits started following a serious period of senior poverty in the 1950s. “We have to do better, but maybe there’s a silver lining with the COVID-19 situation, and maybe government will take a closer look at this issue again,” he says.

We thank John Anderson for speaking with Save with SPP. John Anderson is the former Policy Director of the federal NDP and now a union researcher.

If you don’t have access to a workplace pension, consider becoming a member of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. It’s an open defined contribution plan – once you’re a member, the contributions you make are invested and grown over time, and when you retire, you have the option of turning your savings into a lifetime monthly pension. Check them out today.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

May 6: Best from the blogosphere

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

Tax-free pension plans may offer a new pathway to retirement security: NIA

With workplace pensions becoming more and more rare, and Canadians generally not finding ways to save on their own for retirement, it may be time for fresh thinking.

Why not, asks Dr. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald of the National Institute on Ageing, introduce a new savings vehicle – a tax-free pension plan?

Interviewed by Yahoo! Finance Canada, Dr. MacDonald says the workplace pension plan model can work well. “Workplace pension plans are a key element to retirement income security due to features like automatic savings, employer contributions, substantial fee reductions via economies of scale, potentially higher risk-adjusted investment returns, and possible pooling of longevity and other risks,” she states in the article.

Dr. MacDonald and her NIA colleagues are calling for something that builds on those principles but in a different, tax-free way, the article explains. The new Tax-Free Pension Plan would, like an RRSP or RPP, allow pension contributions to grow tax-free, the article says. But because it would be structured like a TFSA, no taxes would need to be deducted when the savings are pulled out as retirement income, the article reports.

“TFSAs have been very popular for personal savings, and the same option could be provided to workplace pension plans. It would open the pension plan world to many more Canadians, particularly those at risk of becoming Canada’s more financially vulnerable seniors in the future,” she explains.

And because the money within the Tax-Free Pension Plan is not taxable on withdrawal, it would not negatively impact the individual’s eligibility for benefits like OAS and GIS, the article states.

It’s an interesting concept, and Save with SPP will watch to see if it gets adopted anywhere. Save with SPP earlier did an interview with Dr. MacDonald on income security for seniors and her work with NIA continues to seek ways to ensure the golden years are indeed the best of our lives.

Cutting bad habits can build retirement security

Writing in the Greater Fool blog Doug Rowat provides an insightful breakdown of some “regular” expenses most of us could trim to free up money for retirement savings.

Citing data from Turner Investments and Statistics Canada, Rowat notes that Canadians spend a whopping $2,593 on restaurants and $3,430 on clothing every year, on average. Canadians also spend, on average, $1,497 each year on cigarettes and alcohol.

“Could you eat out less often,” asks Rowat. “Go less to expensive restaurants? Substitute lunches instead of dinners? Skip desserts and alcohol?” Saving even $500 a year on each of these categories can really add up, he notes.

“If you implemented all of these cost reductions at once across all of these categories, you’d have more than $186,000 in additional retirement savings. That’s meaningful and could result in a more fulfilling or much earlier retirement,” suggests Rowat. He’s right – shedding a bad habit or two can really fatten the wallet.

If you don’t have a retirement plan at work, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is ready and waiting to help you start your own. The plan offers professional investing at a low cost, a great track record of returns, and best of all, a way to convert your savings to retirement income at the finish line. You can set up automatic contributions easily, a “set it and forget it” approach – and by cutting out a few bad habits, you can free up some cash today for retirement income tomorrow. It’s win-win.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Dec 24: Best from the blogosphere – Feds want input on how to make retirement more secure

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

Feds want input on how to make retirement more secure

Retirement security is a hard thing to define, particularly if you are not yet retired.

Some imagine it as an upgrade from working – you’ll have more time to do all the things you want, no more slogging away at the office. Others worry if they will have enough savings to fund the kind of life they have now – or even a more austere one.

Workplace pensions are far rarer than they were in decades past, leaving most of us to have to create our own retirement security.

The federal government, reports Wealth Professional, is opening public consultations on the growing problem of retirement security. It wants to take a harder look at pension regulations, as well as (and perhaps, the article says, in light of the Sears pension debacle), “insolvency and bankruptcy laws.”

The consultations want to “improve retirement security for Canadians” by looking at ways to ensure workplace plans are “well funded,” and corporate decisions are better aligned with “pensioner and employee interests.” The government, the article notes, talks about the improvements that have been made to government pensions, such as the OAS and GIS.

We learned recently that Canadians ought to have saved 11 times their salary by the time they are ready to retire. But in an era when workplace pensions are scarce, how can such saving be encouraged? And how do we ensure folks don’t dip into the savings before it’s time to live off them?

If RRSP savings were locked in people wouldn’t be able to withdraw money until they reach retirement age, and at that point, if funds were be converted to an income stream people would be assure of income for life.

A second idea might be to add a voluntary savings component to the CPP; this has been floated before.

Another idea might be to create investment funds for the OAS and the GIS. Right now these benefits are paid 100 per cent via taxpayer dollars. If, as is the case with the CPP, some of the dollars could be diverted to investment funds, maybe that taxpayer portion of future benefit costs could be reduced.

The real challenge is getting people to save more. One can argue truthfully that there are plenty of great savings vehicles out there that just aren’t being fully used. Could the feds offer some new tax incentives to put money away?

It will be interesting to see what the government finds out on this important topic.

If you don’t have a pension plan at work – and even if you do – it’s always wise to put away money for retirement, which will come sooner than you think. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers a simple, well-run savings vehicle that is flexible and effective. You decide how much to put away, you can ramp it up or down over your career, and you get multiple options on how to receive a pension when the golden handshake comes. Be sure to check it out.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Your guide to upcoming CPP changes

In June 2016 federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers finally reached an agreement to expand the Canada Pension Plan. However, because the changes will be phased in over an extended period, there has been considerable confusion among many Canadians about how both CPP contributions and benefits will increase, and who the winners and losers will be.

The Globe and Mail reports that an expanded CPP is designed to address the shortfall in middle-income retirement planning that is occurring as a result of disappearing corporate pensions. “Most at risk are workers under the age of 45 with middling incomes – say, families earning about $50,000 to $80,000 a year,” note authors Janet McFarland and Ian McGugan. “Without the defined-benefit pensions that their parents enjoyed, many could hit retirement with little in savings.”

Here is what you need to know about the planned CPP changes.

Effects on CPP retirement pension and post-retirement benefit:
Currently, you and your employer pay 4.95% of your salary into the CPP, up to a maximum income level of $55,300 a year. If you are self-employed you contribute the full 9%.

When you retire at the age of 65, you will be paid a maximum annual pension of $13,370 (2017) under the program if you contributed the maximum amount each year for 40 years (subject to drop out provisions). People earning more than $55,300 do not contribute to CPP above that level, and do not earn any additional pension benefits.

The first major change will increase the annual payout target from about 25% of pre-retirement earnings to 33%. That means if you earn $55,300 a year, you would receive a maximum annual pension of about $18,250 in 2017 dollars by the time you retire — an increase of about $4,880/year (subject to the phase in discussed below).

The second change will increase the maximum amount of income covered by the CPP (YMPE) from $55,300 to about $79,400 (estimated) when the program is fully phased in by 2025, which means higher-income workers will be eligible to earn CPP benefits on a larger portion of their income.

For a worker at the $79,400 income level, CPP benefits will rise to a maximum of about $19,900 a year (estimated in 2016 dollars). Contributions to CPP from workers and companies will increase by one percentage point to 5.95% of wages, phased in slowly between 2019 and 2025 to ease the impact. The federal finance department says the portion of earnings between $54,900 and $79,400 will have a different contribution rate for workers and employers, expected to be set at 4%.

The enhancement also applies to the CPP post-retirement benefit. If you are receiving a CPP retirement pension and you continue to work and make CPP contributions in 2019 or later, your post-retirement benefits will be larger.

Impact on CPP disability benefit/survivor’s benefit
The enhancement will also increase the CPP disability benefit and the CPP survivor’s pension starting in 2019. The increase you receive will depend on how much and for how long you contributed to the enhanced CPP.

Impact on CPP death benefit
There is currently a one-time lump sum taxable death benefit of $2,500 for eligible contributors of $2,500. This amount will not change.

The main beneficiaries of the CPP changes will be young employees, who are less likely to have workplace pension plans than older workers. To earn the full CPP enhancement, a person will have to contribute for 40 years at the new levels once the program is fully phased in by 2025. That means people in their teens today will be the first generation to receive the full increase by 2065.

The recently released Old Age Security report from chief actuary Jean-Claude Ménard which includes the GIS illustrates how higher CPP premiums scheduled to begin in 2019 will ultimately affect the OAS program.

The report reveals that because of the planned CPP changes, by 2060, 6.8% fewer low-income Canadians will qualify for the GIS, representing 243,000 fewer beneficiaries. This will save the federal government $3-billion a year in GIS payments.

In other words, higher CPP benefits mean some low income seniors will no longer qualify for the GIS, which is a component of the Old Age Security program. The GIS benefits are based on income and are apply to single seniors who earn less than $17,688 a year and married/common-law seniors both receiving a full Old Age Security pension who earn less than $23,376.

Also read: 10 things you need to know about enhanced CPP benefits

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Should the age of CPP/OAS eligibility be raised?

Results from the 2016 census show that there are now 5.9 million Canadian seniors, compared to 5.8 million Canadians age 14 and under. This is due to the historic increase in the number of people over 65 — a jump of 20% since 2011 and a significantly greater increase than the five percent growth experienced by the population as a whole. This rapid pace of aging carries profound implications for everything from pension plans to health care, the labour market and social services.

“The reason is basically that the population has been aging in Canada for a number of years now and the fertility level is fairly low, below replacement levels,” Andre Lebel, a demographer with Statistics Canada told Global News. Lebel also projects that because over the next 16 years, the rest of the baby boom will become senior citizens, the proportion of seniors will rise to 23 per cent.

Therefore, it is not surprising that a new study from the C.D. Howe Institute proposes that the age of eligibility (AOE) for CPP/QPP, Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits should be re-visited. The AOE is the earliest age at which an individual is permitted to receive a full (unreduced) pension from the government.

Other countries with aging populations are raising the AOE for social security benefits. These include Finland, Sweden, Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom. In 2012, then Prime Minister Steven Harper announced plans to increase the AOE for OAS and GIS from 65 to 67 between 2023 and 2029. However, Trudeau reversed this very unpopular legislation (leaving the AOE at 65) in the 2016 budget.

In their report Greener Pastures: Resetting the age of eligibility for Social Security based on actuarial science, authors Robert Brown and Shantel Aris say their goal is to introduce an “evidence-based” analysis that can be used impartially to adjust the AOE for Canada’s social security system based on actuarial logic, not political whims.

However, they do not argue that current systems and reform plans are unsustainable. In fact, increasing life expectancy and increasing aged-dependency ratios are consistent with the assumptions behind CPP/QPP actuarial valuations. However, they suggest that if there are relatively painless ways to manage increasing costs to the programs, then they are worthy of public debate.

Their calculations assume that Canadians will spend up to 34% of their life in retirement, resulting in recommendations for a new AOE of 66 (phased-in beginning in 2013 and achieved by 2025) that would then be constant until 2048 when the AOE would shift to age 67 over two years.

Brown and Avis believe these shifts would soften the rate of increase in the Old Age Dependency Ratio, bring lower OAS/GIS costs and lower required contribution rates for the CPP (both in tier 1 and the new tier 2). This, in turn, would result in equity in financing retirement across generations and a higher probability of sustainability of these systems.

However they do acknowledge that there are some important issues that would arise if the proposed AOE framework is adopted. One of these issues is the fact that raising the AOE is regressive. For example, if your life expectancy at retirement is five years, and the AOE is raised by one year, then that is a 20% loss in benefits. If your life expectancy at retirement is 20 years, then the one year shift in the AOE is only a five percent benefit reduction.

People with higher income and wealth tend to live longer, so the impact of raising the AOE will be greater on lower-income workers than on higher-income workers. Access to social assistance benefits would be needed to mitigate this loss. The study suggests that it would be easy to mitigate the small regressive element in the shift of AOS by reforming the OAS/GIS clawback as the AOE starts to rise.

The report concludes that having partial immunization of the OAS/GIS and CPP/QPP from increases in life expectancy is  and logical and would help Canada to achieve five attractive goals with respect to our social security system:

  • Increase the probability of it’s sustainability.
  • Increase the credibility of this sustainability with the Canadian public.
  • Enhance inter-generational equity.
  • Lower the overall costs of social security; and
  • Create a nudge for workers to stay in the labour force for a little longer .

It remains to be seen if or when the C.D. Howe proposals regarding changes to the AOE for public pension plans will make it on to the “To Do” list of the current or future federal governments.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.